Faith, obedience, endurance, and praise – the secret behind God’s military plan
Part 1.2: Understanding God’s Word – Bible Commentary on Joshua 6
Bible passages being discussed: (Joshua 6:3-20)
In the first instalment of our Jacob’s Ladder Bible Study on Joshua 6, we started this month’s study by reading about the pivotal events and preparation that led to the Israelite’s victory at the city of Jericho, where God caused the walls of this fortress city to fall down and the Israelites to establish themselves as the new rulers of the land of Canaan – the Promised Land.
We started our Bible commentary with Israelite’s successful crossing into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. Though Canaan truly is the land of milk and honey, as God promised them, it is also occupied by their enemies, the Canaanites.
As part of their 3-part military strategy to possess the land of Canaan, the Israelites are about to embark on what no one has done before – they are planning on conquering the impregnable military fortress city of Jericho, which had been strategically built to defend the access point to the central mountain ranges that divide the land from east to west.
However, the Israelites are not going against the seasoned warrior Canaanites alone – God has been preparing His people for victory by re-instigating His covenant with them and insisting on traditions and customs being observed that had been discarded in the wilderness. In addition, God has planted a weakness behind the enemy lines in the form of Rahab, a prostitute. Moreover, the Israelites believe in God’s promise to deliver Jericho into their hands (Joshua 6:2). If God says it’s a done deal, then it’s a done deal!
Now that their preparation is complete, the next thing that the Israelites need to do is carry out God’s plan to overcome Jericho – a plan that tests the boundaries of human logic and military expertise, because it simply does not make sense to us. And yet it worked!
Would you like to know what this plan was and why it led the Israelites to the capture of Jericho? Then keep on reading!
However, before we begin, let us take a quick look at why God chose Jericho, a city whose defenses were considered impenetrable, as a first point of victory for the Israelites in their military campaign on the Promised Land of Canaan.
The victory at Jericho was designed to give God glory and establish His might
The victory of Jericho was going to be monumental, not only for the Israelites to drive a wedge into Canaan and set up a new ruling dynasty in the land, but for God to show His people, the Canaanites, and the surrounding nations how mighty He was.
This was God’s battle, and He was going to choose a divinely superior method of deliverance that would display His power and establish for the Israelites and the surrounding nations that He was the source of the Israelite’s victory – not man’s carnal intelligence or expertise at wielding weaponry.
So why did God seek out Jericho specifically?
Although it is true that the city of Jericho posed as a major obstacle for the Israelites in their pursuit of claiming the land God promised them, what really offended God were that the city’s inhabitants were worshipping pagan idols and holding occult practices that were offensive to Him (Joshua 6:18). This spiritual disobedience was an abomination to God and needed to be stopped and the Canaanites made an example of.
For that reason, God chose to pitch His people, who were inexperienced in warfare and ill-equipped for battle, against the Canaanites, who were superior to them in military experience and resources, in order that all would recognizable that the Israelite victory could only come through God’s might and power and not through human strategizing.
Additionally, this plan was unique in that it had never been implemented before, nor would it ever be used again to conquer a city.
Now, let’s find out what God’s military strategy for defeating the Canaanites at Jericho was.
The art of war – minus the weapons and the fighting
“The Art of War” is one of the most renowned military treatises ever written. It is attributed to the ancient Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tzu.
When it came to ancient warfare, Sun Tzu and his contemporaries used their experience on the battlefield to form innovative and crippling strategies to gain victory over their opponents. These strategies were documented, resulting in the famous publication we know today.
Sun Tzu’s treatise includes tactical advice in conquering a besieged city, however the people of Ancient Palestine were also seasoned in this type of warfare.
The strategy behind invading a besieged city such as Jericho would have covered a timespan of weeks, if not months. There were various options that an attacking army could implement to force their enemy to surrender:
- They could starve the city inhabitants into surrendering
- They could assault the city with battering rams, moving towers or catapults
- The integrity of the fortress walls could be compromised by tunneling or using fire
- A dirt ramp could be constructed by heaping earth until it reached the most accessible point in the parapets
God’s military plan for the overthrow of Jericho
However, God does not strategize as man does. First of all, His military plan was designed to achieve a victory in 7 days – an impossible timeline in ancient warfare. God reveals further details of His strategy to Joshua:
‘”You shall march around the city, all the warriors circling the city once. Thus you shall do for six days, with seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. When they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and all the people shall charge straight ahead.”
Joshua 6:3-5 (NRSV)
Let’s break down God’s plan:
- The Israelites needed to march around the walls of Jericho once each day, for 6 days
- At the front of the cavalcade would be 7 priests bearing 7 trumpets made out of ram’s horns
- The priests were to walk ahead of the ark
- On the 7th day, the Israelites were to walk 7 times around the city walls
- At the sound of the priests blowing the trumpets, all of the Israelites were to give an almighty shout
- The walls of Jericho fall down
God’s presence is a formidable weapon
God’s plan did not involve weaponry or a convoluted military strategy. It didn’t even require the Israelites to build trenches or erect battering rams. God’s plan comprised of a very simple strategy that entailed two key symbols of God’s presence:
The ark was to play a prominent role in the victory of Jericho. God was showing His people that He was with them, leading them to victory. Seeing the ark before them would also have reassured the Israelites, reminding them of how they crossed the Jordan (Joshua 3:2-4, 3:8-14). God also wanted the ark in front of them to keep the Israelite’s hearts and minds on Him, and not on their upcoming battle.
The trumpets that the priests used were not the silver instruments traditionally used in ceremonies. These trumpets were designed to be used in battle. They were made out of ram’s horns and only ranged a few notes, which evoked spiritual overtones. When blown into, they emitted a dull, penetrating sound, which was designed to make the Israelites associate it with God’s voice.
Can you imagine how these trumpets sounded and the effect it had on the Israelites? And what about the Canaanites? The sombre resonance being emitted from the ram’s horns would have intimidated the Canaanites watching from the walls above them, making them think that the time of their doom was nigh. Talk about an added bonus!
What is also so unusual about this plan is that every Israelite was involved – not only the non-soldiers such as women and children, but also the priests, who traditionally were excused from warfare. God wanted a group effort for a group victory.
I wonder what Sun Tzu would have thought about this plan?
One thing is for certain: Though this strategy challenges our logic (and even our survival instincts), it is evident that God factored in details in His plan that we as humans may otherwise not have considered. Let’s find out what they were.
Don’t fight the enemy his way – fight your way
The Israelites could not engage in direct warfare, as they were ex-slaves and nomads, who had wandered the desert for 40 years. They were not warriors like the Canaanites, and they certainly did not possess battering rams, catapults and such to even launch such an assault. Their few swords and slings (though these were very effective – remember David versus Goliath [1 Samuel 17]?) would be of little use against the fortified walls of Jericho. And God knew that.
Therefore, God wanted the Israelites to fight with what they had. Let’s see what the Israelites had in their strategic assemblage.
The weapons of our warfare are spiritual, not carnal
Based on what we’ve just read, this was always going to be a spiritual battle, not a physical one. Hence, instead of using the meagre supply of weapons in their arsenal, the Israelites were going to fight with far greater weapons – their faith, obedience, courage, and endurance.
The Israelite’s declaration of faith in God’s assurance of victory starts with Joshua. He not only listened to what God told him about the imminent fall of Jericho, he believed that God would deliver the city into the Israelite’s hands (Joshua 6:2).
Then, with continued faith, Joshua told the plan to the Israelites, who in turn, accepted this untried and illogically-sounding strategy with their own faith. This was highly commendable on their part, considering that Joshua intentionally only told them God’s plan in increments. Joshua wanted the Israelites to focus on God and be dependent on Him throughout every part of the process to achieving victory and the prize of capturing the city.
Thus, the Israelites marched around their enemy’s camp trusting God’s promise, which only Joshua had heard directly. They believed in the battle plan.
This was a tremendous leap of faith for the Israelites, for they didn’t have the reassurance of a tried and tested strategy to gauge their odds, nor could they rely on their limited experience in warfare. They had to put their trust and reliance in God.
Despite the battle plan being fraught with danger – walking around a highly defended city being observed by battle-hardened giants for 7 days – the Israelites gathered their courage and walked.
Going around and around the city walls, the Israelites would have been able to see clearly what they were up against – giants armed to the teeth in weaponry, impenetrable walls with ramparts wide enough for chariots to ride across, and a looming stone tower that rose 28 ft above them. They also would have made themselves vulnerable to attack from the Canaanites. And yet, the Israelites refused to let themselves be intimidated. They walked in courage, knowing that God was Jehovah Nissi – their battle standard.
Joshua and the Israelites followed God’s strategy down to the last detail. For 6 days, every man, woman and child walked in absolute silence around the walls of Jericho in the cavalcade that God had decreed – even when they saw nothing happening.
It was only on the 7th day, that the Israelites shouted once – again in obedience to God at Joshua’s command.
The Israelites demonstrated their obedience by fulfilling Joshua’s instructions as he issued them, without having an overview of God’s strategy.
Additionally, the Israelites most likely would have marched on the Sabbath. However, they chose to obey a God, who didn’t allow Himself to be restricted by His own laws, as opposed to strictly following a religious practice. We see this repeated in Mark 2:23-28, when Jesus countered the Pharisee’s accusation that His disciples plucked at heads of grain to still their hunger on the Sabbath.
Instead of relying on their own human logic and carnal strategizing, the Israelites chose to completely obey God, without questioning His plans, nor His timing.
The Israelites exhibited tremendous endurance by persisting in following a plan day by day that didn’t make sense to them. This was remarkable, especially when you consider that walking around the walls of Jericho only exposed the Israelite’s apparently futile situation to the Children of God, which could only have attempted to whittle away at their insistence in obeying God.
These elements, together with the presence of a mighty and powerful God, made up the winning military strategy required to make the walls of Jericho fall down.
The sound of silence
Have you ever heard of the phrase “Speech is silver, but silence is golden?” Well in the Israelite’s case, silence played a key role in their victory.
Although it doesn’t specifically state in the Bible why God wanted the Israelites to march in silence – He could have equally required of them to sing and dance in worship, or march around praying loudly – the Israelite’s observation of silence demonstrates an important precedence for us all to come to God in silence. Instead of running around trying to solve our problems with our own strength, we need to come to rest and be still in God’s presence and draw on His strength.
“Be silent, all people, before the Lord; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”
In addition, by being silent, while at the same time not exactly being told why, was a further act of obedience from the Children of God.
Finally, through the silence, the Israelite’s could better hear the trumpet fanfare that represented the voice of God, which helped them focus on God’s promise of victory for them.
On six and seven* – the significance of the numbers 6 and 7 in the Bible
When you read about God’s strategy for the Israelites to conquer Jericho, did the number 7 keeping popping out at you?
- 7 days
- 7 trips around the city walls
- 7 priests
- 7 horns
- The Israelites shout on the 7th day
Well, that is not a coincidence on God’s part. Numbers play a significant role in the Bible.
The number 7 is found 735 times in scripture. It represents completeness, perfection and the foundation of God.
When you think about what you already know about the number 7 from Sunday school or your own study of the Bible, the significance of this numeral makes sense: God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th – the Sabbath. Passover is celebrated in Israel, according to biblical tradition, for 7 days.
The number 7 is also represented in other ways in the Bible:
- According to the Hebrew calendar, God created Adam in the 7th month
- The bible is divided into 7 divisions:
1) the law
2) the prophets
3) the Psalms
4) Gospels and Acts
5) the (general) epistles
6) Paul’s epistles
7) The Book of Revelations
- Though this is still up for debate – The total number of original books of the bible was 49 – 7×7. Our modern translations incorporate 66 books – 39 in the Old Testament and 26 in the New Testament
- In the Book of Revelations, 7 churches (Revelations 1:11), 7 spirits of God and 7 stars (Revelations 3:1), 7 angels and 7 plagues (Revelations 15:1), 7 bowls (Revelation 16:1), 7 seals (Revelation 6:1–17) and 7 trumpets (Revelation 8:6) are signs of end times.
In comparison, the number 6 symbolizes man and his weakness:
- God created man on the 6th day
- In ancient times, Hebrew slaves were to serve 6 years and be released in the 7th year
- 6 (x3) is associated with Satan
For 6 days, the Israelites walked around the walls of Jericho and nothing happened. It was only when God intervened on the 7th day, did the walls fall down, thus completing the Israelite’s victory.
God has given the Israelites a purpose in Canaan, as well as a plan by which they can claim the land of milk and honey for their own. The Israelites know that they have to accept God’s plan with faith and carry it through with obedience, if they have any chance of conquering Jericho. However, there is one final thing they need to do, before they see the walls of the city fall down.
They needed to give an almighty shout of praise to their God!
*(From Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde)
Praise God before the breakthrough
Every Israelite – from the 7 Levite priests before the ark to the smallest child – obeyed God and walked in absolute silence around the walls of the fortified city of Jericho for 6 days.
The city encompassed an area of about 6.5 acres, so it didn’t take the Israelites long to march around the perimeter. However, it did give them ample opportunity to do a thorough reconnaissance of their enemy’s layout.
Being so close to Jericho’s infamous impregnable walls, the Israelites were confronted with just how colossal the task ahead of them was. Their proximity to the walls would have most likely put them in danger from an airborne attack of spears, slings or arrows from the Canaanites manning the parapets. At the least, the Israelites probably had to endure ridicule and jeering from the Canaanites, with the intention of intimidating them. Yet through all of this, they did not break their silence.
Until the 7th day.
On this day, God wanted the Israelites to shout – just once – before He made the walls fall down. And the shout was to be a response to the sound of the ram’s horn, which was supposed to be akin to His voice.
Why did God ask His people to that?
We established earlier that this was a spiritual battle and that God wanted to use the victory of Jericho to set a precedent for the surrounding nations.
God didn’t need the Israelite’s help – but He did want their partnership, which required them to show Him a visible sign of their faith. And what better way to show God your faith than by praising Him before you see a breakthrough?
This is what the Israelite’s one and only shout symbolized – that they believed God would keep His promise of victory, before they saw one stone from the wall of Jericho being dislodged and that He was their Lord, who would never fail them, nor forsake them.
Praising God before a breakthrough is also demonstrated in other biblical accounts: King Jehoshaphat sent men to sing and praise God before his battle against the combined armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir (2 Chronicles 20:20-22). In Acts 16:25-32, Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises to God in prison. In response, God brought about an earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison, released captives from their chains, and brought a Phillipian jailor to Christ.
And so, the Israelite’s raised their voices on Joshua’s command and shouted their praise to the Lord in faith:
“So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it.”
And in response, God caused the walls of Jericho – the infamously impregnable walls of Jericho – to fall down.
However, the lesson of God’s promise doesn’t end here. The Israelite’s still need to fulfil God’s final commands in the captured city of Jericho, before they can claim their inheritance as the new leaders of the land of Canaan.
If you would like to learn more about what the Israelite’s get up to in their first days as the victors of Jericho, then feel free to join us in our next and final instalment of Part One of our Bible Study on Joshua 6, which we will publish next week.
In the weeks to come, we will be publishing the remaining parts of our Jacob’s Ladder Bible Study on Joshua 6: In Part Two – Living God’s Word, we will share with you how you can implement the lessons learned in Joshua 6 in your own life. In Part Three – Studying God’s Word, we will be offering study and discussion questions, reading material, and a prayer that you can use in your own small group or adapt to your own private study of Joshua 6.
Until then, stay blessed my friends!
bibleorg.com, “5. Destroying Fortresses; Victory at Jericho (Joshua 6:1-27)”
enduring word.com, “Joshua 6 – The fall of Jericho”
thetorah.com, “How Many Years Were the Israelites in Egypt?”
christiancourier.com, “Joshua 6:2, 16 – The Gift of Jericho”
desiringgod.org, “The Conquest of Canaan”
gotquestions.org, “Who was Joshua in the Bible?”
thejc.com, “What is Pesach?”